By W.B. Yeats
The poem is divided in four stanzas.
v.1 I: The poet is speaking
v.1 them: the rebels; the poet know them.
v.2 vivid: it means full of life and energy. Rebels were considered energyc, they were happy.
v.3 grey: it is related to the past.
v.6 polite meaningless words: it is repeated twice; "meaningless" can mean "formal", in this sense we can say that their acquaintance was superficial, they were not friends.
v.10 the atmosphere was anyway amusing, happy
v.14 motley: we can consider them actors in their society, but then all changed
vv.14/16 are very important: they refer to the theatre, and are expressed again in the end of the 2nd stanza. They lived as they were on a stage. Th e characters may have a mask. This reinforce the idea of their superficial acquaintance.
The poem was written to commemorate people who died.
v.17 the first protagonist is a woman. The woman thought that what she was doing was right, but the presence of "ignorant" means that the poet did not approve this "good-will" of the Irish cause. It is a personal judgement of the author. The woman wasted some of her feminine aspects. She change her voice from sweet to shrill. There is a sort of nostalgia for the past situation.
v.24 the second protagonist is the man
v.25 winged horse: it is referred to Pegaso, but it can also have a symbolical meaning: it can refer to freedom or to the dreamer nature of men.
v.26 the third protagonist is another man: the poet says that he is losing his positive features, such as his sensitive side, and his sweet thoughts (as well as the previous woman).
These people are wasting a part of their personal life.
v.31 the fourth protagonist, a drunken. The poet mentions him even if this man is supposed to have brought a "bitter wrong" to a woman he loved. But everything has changed, and also this men deserves to be commemorated.
v.37 casual: the protagonist has not decided the comedy, he is living minute by minute. This is an other image related to theatre.
Comparisons with the 1st stanza:
• vv.14/16 and 37/40 are similar, they have the same meaning, they both refer to the theatre
• the 1st stanza is positive; instead the 2nd one explains the poet's judgement about the protagonists, which is not completely positive.
In particular the poet seems sorry for this other men. In fact all these protagonists could be good or bad but they deserve being commemorate.
This part has elements related to nature.
v.41 all these people had an only purpose, which is freedom. They were different but they used to share the same ideal, which was not new, they had had it for long.
v.43 stone: it has a symbolical meaning as it represents the Irish cause. The stone is something that can not change, it is the symbol of eternity, of unchangibility. Unchangibility hints at the idea of Irish independence.
v.43 enchanted: it refers to something which is beyond the reason, not completely rational. The Irish can not understand if what they do is right or wrong: this is call political FANATICISM(you may use violence to get your purpose: it can lead to lack of humanity).
They have changed their life, from a meaningless life into a new one where the strong meaning is the fight for an independent Ireland. In this sense political idealism becomes political fanaticism.
v.44 living stream: it means that this stone troubles life, it has a negative connotation. The Irish cause could be positive, but it is clear that the poet thinks it has a negative effect on living life, on steam.
v.50 there is a contrasting idea with the unchangibility of the stone: what changes is a living person, not a stone. Although time changes everything, life changes but the "stone" remains the same. The Irish cause resists to time, it is eternal. This is the idea of a continuous change.
v.55 Their life is harmonic accordance to the law of nature.
v.57 the sacrifice is related to the rebels, to the Irish people of course.
vv.57/64 there is a positive simile between the poet and a loving mother who names her child before sleeping but in this case there is no sleep but death.
v.59 There is a rhetorical question. (and a rhetorical answer v.61 “ name upon name “)
v.67 the poet wonders whether this kind of death was useful or not, because England anyway was ready to allow the Home Rule. The revolt was considered needless because it did not change anything.
v.72 excess of love: they are enchanted to their cause; this is an excess, which is not controlled by reason any more.
vv.75/end these people entered the myth, they became heroes.
vv.16-40-80 a terrible beauty:
it is a paradox.
Did Yeats feel admiration for these people?
The poet felt admiration for them because they are heroes, but anyway there is a negative opinion to balance beauty, which is the adjective terrible.
Terrible: impression, fear, disappointment, disillusion, incredulity.
We can notice there are contrasting feelings which reflects the poet's opinion towards the rebels; it was an event of heroism, but it was a mistake.
Death/birth: the revolt (the revolt didn’t change anything and the death was needless) means death, but also the birth of heroism and the resurrection of the myth.
Easter can be interpreted as the rebirth of the myth. The rebels are myths, heroes, now.